Rattan Gujadhur

[Rattan Gujadhur] The cultural Asphyxiation of Port Louis

Rédigé par Rattan Gujadhur le Samedi 22 Décembre 2018

Rattan Gujadhur left Mauritius for higher studies in the US in 1999. He has practiced in the Pharma and Biotech world for over 29 years and is a Dr in Chemistry. He remains deeply in love with Mauritius and has published reminiscences of Mauritius via a poetry collection and a novel.

I have always loved Port Louis. I am a Port Louisien at heart. I have deep running fond memories of the Port Louis of my childhood. The endless walks from Champ de Mars, to the then Desforges street. Rue Royale road walks, the many meetings and vagabondages with friends all over the center of town, until we were forced to return home for last minute home-works. The familiarity with owners of now defunct Chinese corner shops, who knew us, and even our family names and histories. The range of diverse smells and noises and tapages in this Port Louis of the olden days.

I recall our discoveries in the side streets of our capital, things like ‘boulette de poisson’ near L’Amicale that allowed an exploration of cuisines, never to be found at home. Strange encounters in the city center with crooks, lost childhood friends, and weird relatives, that one rarely expects to run into, when one is drunk on fun with friends. Even stranger meetings with Taiwanese sailors, and in their eyes, seen, the brutality of the world of commercial fishing, like a letter from a people of another world, another planetary domain. 

Strange potent feelings, felt in temples during festive pujas, that have stayed entrenched with me, imbibing  in me a love and quest for spirituality, and the very first teenage kisses at Marie Reine de La Paix overseeing the glorious city, my city, firmly hidden behind the statues of the holy virgin, the eternal Marie Reine de la Paix. Sacred moments all of them that have made me into a Port Louisien in my very blood. Port Louis was vibrant, rich in color, and authentically multi-ethnic and multi-racial.

Many months ago, I had written a piece in l'express questioning the authenticity of the festival Port Louis by Light and Night’. The obvious superficialities of this said festival has now become very obvious to many. Pictures of the tons of garbage left behind, after ‘les celebrations’, have already been seen and recorded by many.

They did not care much about the cultural revivalism of Port Louis, they were just forging and flexing a message from a powerful elite base. I received a varied list of abusive emails right after the said article, which did not affect me in any way, but revealed to me the classic Mauritian resistance to self-inquire, self-criticize, and well known trait to always vilify critics. Yes, I may have pushed the knife deep into some sensitivities, but the basic premise of my article was to question how culturally deep routed and authentic was the festivities of ‘Port Louis by Night’

Did they really pull together true Mauritian artists, or did they just invite well known foreign stars to display and throw an expensive street party? The committee was clearly not representative of Mauritian society nor did many local artists find that they were being included, or even acknowledged in the extravaganza.

I received many emails and texts from many artists (some well-known and some not) telling me how they felt strangely left out and totally disenfranchised. Many others criticized the veracity of my article, as if staying outside Mauritius, makes one an exile, unfit with no real right to his mother country.

So much was learnt from the article and it’s post effects. Mauritian society is not as cohesive as it hypocritically pretends to me. It feels like a high politicized manipulative experiment in progress. This is well displayed when one sees what Port Louis has truly become today.

Where is Port Louis culturally speaking  today? It’s architecture, it’s vibrancy, allure and diversity. Port Louis is rapidly dissing its past. Old buildings of the colonial era, some may argue are potent with ‘le temps margoz’ for the population, but I see them as beautiful vestiges of a past that strongly deserves to be preserved and recreated so we remain cognizant of our history and heritage.

Port Louis could in fact be Lisbon-like with an assiduous effort to preserve its old architectural past, which may in fact be a viable tourist attraction in itself and change and revitalize the very allure of the city. Instead, more cement blocks like cataracts have spread like wildfire and the old city is being consciously left to rot, whither, and die.

Why is this happening or being perpetuated? The obvious answer are obviously commercial needs. Those who own the colonial jewel like old houses of ‘bardeaux’ see profit in converting to modern brick houses, for the lower maintenance costs, and possibly better rental proceeds. The lack of governmental funding to upkeep these sites is also an obvious factor.

Some important remnants like the house where Baudelaire resided during his passage to Mauritius, are strictly preserved, both because of its potent historical value, and the involvement of private interests and the savoir faire of the actual owners. If the ‘house’ of Baudelaire is being preserved why not do the same for the rest of these vestiges, the many beautiful ones dating
around the years of Pere Laval and his monumental tasks at Church Street, are just being left to rot. A cultural asphyxiation, and a missed opportunity, to make something beautiful and grand of Port Louis where the old quartier, symbols could be allowed to re-breathe, and would be the antithesis of the post modern commercial horrors we see everywhere we turn, each more amorphous than the other. 

Preserving the old Architectural jewels would create that much needed spatial elan that would imbibe cultural spaciousness and ‘oxygen’ to our town. In Port Louis these are being left to die because of the classic ‘why do I care’ attitude, a blind focus on monetary gains ‘only’ catalyzed by a government, who are obviously devoid of Artistic verve and ideas. Where are the private interests now, one can ask? Why do they not think of this type of cultural revivalism of Port Louis, instead of the usual grand party that generally costs an arm and a leg. 

Why is old Port Louis being left to rot?

Why is the government not acting?


Samedi 22 Décembre 2018